Synopsis – A woman wins an all-expenses-paid trip to a company’s gorgeous “institute” outside of Florence, and also the chance to meet the restaurant chain’s wealthy and charismatic owner. She finds a different adventure than the one she imagined.
My Take – Just by looking at the film’s poster, which resembles the cover of a Harlequin novel, one would assume this to be a story about a whirlwind romance. Doubling down as an old classic right down to the opening titles, the music, and the cinematography, all the while essentially paying homage to ’70s Italian films, that is until of course it moves into crazy and dark territories.
A unsurprising approach considering the film is directed by Jeff Baena who once again teams up with co-writer and star Alison Brie, following their medieval black comedy The Little Hours (2017) and sci-fi tinged character study Horse Girl (2020), who seems to share his fondness for bizarre material and deep character work, playing with tonality as they visit some shadowy psychological spaces. Add to that an assembled cast that is filled with folks who have proven comedy chops, this touted romantic comedy thriller seemed like an immediate winner, which it is, until is not.
While it starts off decently, offering some good time, chuckles, and some low stakes suspense, it’s a shame that the film is never able to keep that momentum up, with a second act that while entertaining, feels full of filler and a third act that feels far too abrupt and unsatisfying.
Much like his previous directorial, this film too has moments of greatness, but eventually runs out of material to carry the vibe of an upbeat workplace farce, slowly massaging in silliness and sinister business, but never fully committing to its tale of everyday pressures and absurdities. Yes, the film is always engaging thanks to its large cast of talented comedians, it just disappointing how it never delivers on the excess of the genres that it indicates.
The story follows Amber (Alison Brie), a manager of branch of the Bakersfield Italian chain of restaurants, who is selected for a special program by her boss Paul (Lil Rel Howery) to attend an all-expenses trip to a company’s gorgeous institute outside of Florence in Italy, all in order to honor and reward her for her nine yearlong excellent work.
When she arrives along with other managers (Molly Shannon, Zach Woods, Tim Heidecker, Debby Ryan, Ayden Mayeri), Amber soon finds herself being seduced by the restaurant chain’s handsome owner, Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola), whose attention leads her to believe that her Italian getaway may end up being the trip of a lifetime. Unfortunately for her, not everything is as it seems.
Soon enough, Amber’s doubts about Nick’s intentions, which are stoked by the warnings of his prickly assistant, Kat (Aubrey Plaza), force her to consider the possibility that her Italian trip may be more dangerous than she’d initially assumed. And once that belief takes hold, it’s not long before Amber’s trip begins to devolve into pure and utter chaos.
With its creepy element weaved around the premise efficiently sets the film up to be a truly absurd, go-for-broke vacation comedy. And then there is a tonal shift to the point where it seems we may be in the midst of a murder mystery. It’s all a bit chaotic, but never quite as funny or tense as we hope. Some parts are severely underwritten while others must have been overwritten and then edited out to keep the film’s running time down to a reasonable 104 minutes.
Here, director Baena just drops vague hints for most of the film‘s running time, and while part of the point is that Amber reads more into situations than is actually there, it’s still frustrating to wait through the slow-paced film hoping for something to happen. Instead, the entire film feels like an exercise in dashing expectations, for both our heroine and the audience. Amber’s hopes of a big Italian romance fizzle alongside our expectation for a wild Euro thriller.
While, it is impossible to not to get laughs from such a stacked cast, or in particular scenes like when Amber attempts to make a dramatic getaway in a company van, only to get stuck executing a multi-point turn, the film still suffers from many of the same issues plaguing director Baena’s other work. Like many of his films, it’s absurdly hilarious in certain parts and needlessly frustrating in others. Like his earlier works, the film is a desert-dry farce about miscommunication and confusion. In certain moments, it even feels like his most precise examination of the strange places that romantic yearning can take a person.
Making matters worse, the film’s script, which was co-written by Baena and Alison Brie, never quite figures out how to effectively build toward its memorable climax, or how to plant the kind of intriguing seeds that viewers need in order to remain engaged all the way up to the moment when everything finally hits the fan.
The final half hour heads towards mock suspense/slasher territory before plunking down in a series of anticlimaxes. Again, it’s amusing enough to watch, but it doesn’t really deliver on whatever it was building towards. There are a lot of haphazard developments and none of the characters are well-rounded or effectively utilized particularly. Amber’s suspicions come together in an anticlimactic confrontation that reveals the film as one big wind-up with very little payoff. T
here’s an epilogue that provides some indications of personal growth for Amber, but it’s a pretty meager result for all the supposed intrigue going on for most of the running time. Ultimately, leaving us with just enough entertaining elements to make for a frustrating viewing experience when none of those elements come properly into focus.
Performance wise, Alison Brie continues to prove a wonderful screen presence as she bounces from naïve to hopeful to confused to concerned. Alessandro Nivola is the right amount of both charming and off-putting to sell his role of an entitled rich scumbag. Sadly, Aubrey Plaza is underwritten and underutilized, while Molly Shannon throws herself into her annoying, abrasive character Zach Woods is amusing and gradually emerges as one of the film’s best parts, especially in the chaotic and disappointing final act. In smaller roles, Tim Heidecker, Ben Sinclair, Debby Ryan, Ayden Mayeri, Lil Rel Howery and Fred Armisen are effective. On the whole, ‘Spin Me Round’ is a strange vacation comedy that ultimately fizzles out.
Directed – Jeff Baena
Rated – NR
Run Time – 104 minutes